Generous Justice

If there’s one thing we Americans do not do well, it’s handling money. We lose it. We spend it. We don’t like giving it away. Those of us who actually do handle money well tend to have the wrong attitude about it (pride much?), putting us back at square one. We typically forget that our money is not really ours at all. It’s God’s. We also tend to neglect what we are supposed to be doing with God’s money. Not only that, but we are supposed to be dealing with all of our resources, including time and possessions, in the same manner. This is where Generous Justice comes into play. Did you know that how you handle your money and things tells about how you understand the Gospel? Oh, how this book packs a punch. The kind that sends Mike Tyson into Build-A-Bear.

At first glance the cover may come off as being about penal substitution or something, but this book entails something much simpler yet deeper. God’s “justice” is more than just punishing the bad guys. Tim Keller takes a theological dive into Deuteronomy and unveils that true justice (called mishpat in Hebrew) is also about doing the right thing for the people as is due, like serving widows, feeding the poor, and providing for the needy. Keller uses Scripture to show that God expected Israel to leave no one behind in terms of material need, and that same provisional love extends to Christians today.

Using a combination of Scripture and anecdotes, the author paves the way on how to do social justice God’s way, not the political way or any other. The whole premise of the book is founded on Christ’s love for us. Keller asserts that a Christian should be able to look at a homeless person and feel love that causes them to provide for the person’s needs, because on a spiritual level we are all poor like the homeless man. We had no hope, and God showed us His grace, thus providing us with what we need (God’s justice). After experiencing God’s grace as such, we treat people in need with that loving justice as well (hence the subtitle, “How God’s Grace Makes Us Just”). In other words, if you aren’t generous with your time and money, that means you may not really understand the Gospel. Big words.

My favorite parts of this book were the practical ones. Tim Keller talks bluntly about the difference between numbered donations and actually getting your hands dirty in your community. In the last third of the book the author wades through many practical issues: what generosity looks like as a Christian individual, how the church works out this concept of being generous, and how the church can play a role in fighting corrupt local policies.

All in all, Generous Justice tackles a subject many Christians shy away from in an easy-to-read manner. This book really resonated with me as I feel that being generous (namely with money) has always been a bit of a struggle for me. I definitely recommend this to everyone, but if you have a hard time giving at any level you especially need to get your hands on this thing. You’ll how the heart of God goes out to those who society has long left behind.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just

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Hell & Bell: A Review of ‘Love Wins’

I was very excited to get my hands on this book so I could see whether Rob Bell wrote a book about truth or some abstract theology he has been known to throw around at times. After I read Love Wins, I was even more disappointed than I originally expected.

Let me get some minor stuff out of the way. Anyone could easily finish this book in a three-hour sitting. The font and spacing are huge. I wish his publishing company didn’t charge $23 for a book that should be only 120 pages long (at least Amazon sells it for $11!). Do I recommend reading this book, though? Not really.

The latest installment in Bell’s writings is undoubtedly about heaven and hell. It is also about human choice. I’d actually say the majority of this book emphasizes the power of our choices. Sadly, the One who doesn’t make a memorable impact on the book is God. Bell doesn’t keep the central focus on God or what his love is like (at least until the end), but he seems to make it clear that because of what Jesus did we can always choose God and make this world a better place. He actually made Jesus sound more like a vehicle to living a good, fulfilled life than a desperately-needed savior. And while Bell tells God’s desires for humanity throughout the book, I couldn’t help but feel that God himself was more like a distant motif here, while we are in the spotlight.

Time for the big issues: In terms of heaven and hell, Bell proposed that we have both heaven and hell here and now, depending on the life we choose to live. We can make heaven on earth now, or hell. And based on our choices, we will either spend the rest of eternity with God, or spend some temporary point in time in Hell. While Bell has denied being a universalist in several interviews, I don’t really know whether he thinks hell is an eternal place or not. In Love Wins he uses verses a la 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 to argue that hell isn’t a place where people who turn against God go, but rather God uses it as a refining time to show people how much they need him. Then, when they choose to love God, they will go to heaven. So he never explicitly states so but heavily implies people can choose their eternal fate post-mortem. Again, the book focuses mostly on our choices as being crucial, not God Himself. Christian salvation comes from God (Ephesians 2:8-9, John 6:44), but that vibe is not made apparent in this book.

While God seems distant, Bell uses the Word quite a bit to support his premises. It’s too bad he quoted a TON of verses out of context, like Ezekiel 16:35, Romans 5:18-21, Zechariah 9-10, Isaiah 19:22, and so many more. The vast majority of the verses cited in the book, when taken in their right context, don’t support Bell’s ideas. He takes the verses which speak about salvation, restoration, and eternal life, and applies them to everyone, when really they only apply/applied to Israel or the Church.

Since we are talking about context, while reading I noted that Bell made many mistakes with the Greek he used in the book and gave a false impression of early church fathers, like Origen, regarding their views on universalism (see here and here for specific criticisms of Bell’s use of Greek and Biblical history). In particular, he really screwed up interpreting a letter from Martin Luther to Hans von Rechenberg in 1522. I think what makes me so upset about that is that Bell denies being a Biblical scholar or theologian, but he uses exegetical methods (horribly) to prove his points. It’s like a guy in feudal Japan who denies being a samurai or ninja or having any sword skills, yet he wields a large katana at his side daily. Huh?

At one point, Bell says he is contributing to the ‘discussion’ around this topic, but it is quite clear that as the book progresses he becomes more obstinate about the ideas he throws around. I understand people can get righteous in a discussion, but by the end of the book he labels certain views of God as simply wrong or incorrect.

I will say he does mention the cross and resurrection, but only as important for what they do for us. As aforementioned he merely describes God’s love, not mentioning the loving Father behind it all as the centerpiece until the very end (even at this point, using some stories and verses still out of context). When he did talk about God, he mostly decried common views about God sending people to hell, saying that love doesn’t work that way. He simply kept saying throughout that ‘love wins’. As the mantra rears its head more and more with each page turn, it’s evident that fuzzy feelings take precedent here over the logos of Scripture. But that’s all right. God doesn’t torment anyone forever. Would God really do that? He loves everyone, and love wins. That’s what Rob wants you to think anyway. He mentions in the book keeping certain paradoxes together, like God’s love and justness, for their dire and eternal value. However, the way God’s justice is laid out in Scripture conflicts with many of Rob Bell’s arguments in Love Wins.

To top it all off, Bell’s citation skills were absolutely unprofessional. Whenever he cited Scripture, he stated only the book and chapter, not the actual verse(s). Remember how I said he talked about Greek exegesis and Church History? No footnotes at all. Not a single source. Honest blunder or intentional tactic, it’s all-around sketchy. Unfortunately, people are dumb enough to assume he’s an expert about his content.

At this point, I’ve said about everything I can find wrong with the book. One of the links above is Kevin DeYoung’s review, which is very thorough about the specific mistakes I’ve mentioned and more.

Bottom Line: I’m going to use a quote from Rob Bell on this one:

“What the Gospel does is confront our version of our story with God’s version of our story.” (pg. 171)

Um, isn’t life about how we fit into God’s story?

Anyway, there you have it – the book centers on our story, with our eternal destiny being limited merely to our choices. Jesus opened up the door, but we get to decide and make up our own faith. Not God. Love wins! *Thumbs up*

This is a dangerous book for new Christians. Bell asks a lot of questions, as is expected. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. However, it is easy to lose sight of his assumptions laid deep in the questions and be mislead by others. If you’ve read Velvet Elvis, that is a book you can at least wrestle with easily. I hate to say this, but Bell spreads some false doctrine here. I don’t suggest picking this one up unless you don’t mind researching sources and have a solid, solid grasp on Scripture.

On a lighter note, Donald Miller’s review of this book is the best on the Internet!

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived

Dirty Girl with a Dirty Heart

Motives determine just about everything we do individually.

They are internal. We control them. They directly affect how we act, and they immediately show what’s in our hearts. Jesus talks about this a lot in Matthew 6, and whenever he conversed with people, he went straight to the heart. When your motives change your actions do, too.

Unfortunately for us, Scripture makes it clear that our motives are pretty messed up. We’ve been wrecked for a while now (since we were conceived).

Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Psalm 51:5 – “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

All humans are stuck in this wicked conundrum we started. Especially Christians. The church. Christ’s bride. We’re really a dirty girl with a dirty heart. But reading these verses has been a wonderful reminder of how much I need Jesus every day, and how much love he has for me despite my sin. It’s the love of Christ that both makes me desire to align my motives with his will and allows me to change them at all.

When analyzing motives, all that’s needed is to ask, “why” you do what you do. Heart check.

This week has been my Spring Break. I have been with my girlfriend and parents up in North Carolina, and as I’ve been spending time with them and contemplating about God’s plans for me in the far future and in these next few months, He has put it on my heart to have a ‘life check’ with a lot of my decisions.

Why do I do what I do? What am I hoping to get or achieve? What are my dreams? Do they end with me or others? Do they point back to God?

A lot of my answers have been encouraging to think on, while others have been convicting.

Because Satan is always trying to get God’s kids (that’s the Christians, of course), we need to often look at our hearts and search for our true motives. Being a Christian means we surrender our motives to Jesus every day and be guided by the Holy Spirit in love in order to love God and others we encounter all the time.

I think the busyness of life usually gets in the way of us checking our hearts, which is probably why Paul told the Corinthian church to always examine their hearts and make sure they’re in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). In fact, our sex culture can really relate to some of the struggles they faced in their day.

The best part about the whole story is that no matter how far off we may run away with our motives, our Heavenly Father always welcomes us back with his open arms (2 Timothy 2:13).

So I ask you the same questions – if you think you don’t need a heart check, then you really need one.

Why do you do what you do? What are you hoping to get or achieve? What are your dreams? Do they end with you or others? Do they point back to God?

Hating Change

One of the most common traits among human beings, in my opinion, has to be our hate of change.

You wake up, plan your day, and when the guy at McDonald’s gives you the wrong order (or you simply see how much their fake food is anymore) you become frustrated, if not angry.

Are you very familiar with money? Perhaps you have a lot; perhaps you had a lot. Either way, it doesn’t take long to realize it can be drained very quickly. Much more quickly than it is usually gained. James 5:1-6, anyone?

Some people seem to embrace change, though. Examples include: people who like to move often, crazy college kids who can’t commit to someone longer than a week, etc. But is that a love of change, or a love of variety? Personally, I feel that change requires either some sort of sacrifice or some twist in our original plans. Ahh, now not so many ’embracers’, eh?

What’s paradoxical about humanity here lies in our quests for success. Especially my generation (the Millennials). Everybody wants to go as high as possible in life, but we want to do so without changing much, with as little effort as possible. Is this a good thing or not? Maybe this is why the vast majority of people around the world leave a very small impact on the world.

When I think of change, one thing I can say is if anyone accepted it well it was Jesus. He went from having all of his God-powers to emptying himself into nothingness, into the humble form of man (Philippians 2:6-8,  2 Corinthians 5:21). Now that’s what I call change. And to think —  through all of the towns he travelled to, all of the love he had for us that drove him through some painful circumstances (let’s see…um…his death?), Jesus embraced change. And 2,000 years later, he is still the most influential figure on the planet.

We should embrace change, too, because our Savior did. I’m not using Jesus as a crutch to gain success, but I do see some serious importance in the change we all know and [tend to] hate.  Our plans will often not go our way, and sacrifices will have to be made. However, if we are filled with love and care for others the way Jesus did, embracing change won’t be so difficult.

Final thoughts: I’ve never seen/heard of a businessman, leader, church planter, etc., who were very successful in their own fields and didn’t embrace change. The truth is that the best leaders embrace change, adapt, and take risks. Smart, focused risks, of course.

When we tackle seasons of change with boldness and new ideas, we stretch. And when we stretch ourselves, we always grow. What a super simple concept! Yes, but simplicity is often overlooked.

Do you resist change? Have you gone through any crazy changes in your life recently?

Speaking of all this change, I hope you’ve had the chance to check out the iPad 2. I may be biased and in love, but I’m just sayin’.

Just a Bunch of Hands and Feet

There are a lot of misconceptions about church. Especially among Christians.

It’s not a place to gain acceptance or reputation.

It’s not a place to sleep. As tempting as it might seem.

It’s not a place to justify and feel better about what you did the night before.

It’s not a place to feel “Christian.”

It’s not a place where you go because ‘that’s what you’re supposed to do.’

It’s not a place you don’t wake up to go to because you’re sick (Sadly, my case this morning).

Then what is the church?

I like to define the church as a place where believers come together and learn about Jesus Christ, grow in relationship with him and fellow believers through  a loving community, and go from to serve the community and preach the Gospel. And by “church” in this post I am usually referring to the ‘church building’ or wherever you go on Saturday/Sunday rather than the Biblical understanding of the actual body of believers, which is definitely not just a place. (I forgot to specify that when I originally posted this).

It’s important to understand that at the heart of the church is Jesus Christ. Not people. The Gospel is of utmost importance, not the attendance numbers.

And the last part of my definition of church is absolutely crucial, though telling others about Jesus is what Christians forget most often. Churches can become so focused on events and programs and sermon series’ that they lose focus on some of their Savior’s final, earthly words. Jesus told his disciples to go make more disciples in every part of the world (Matthew 28:16-20).

Forgetting this last part is probably why many churches die out after a number of years. It becomes a clique, and no outreach is done (or very little). Let’s be honest here — who wants to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey with the same folks year after year?

By being Christians, we should be aiming to be Christ’s disciples. Do you consider him your teacher, and you his student? As a Christian, as a student of Jesus, we should be trying to look more and more like him every day (Ephesians 4:15). What exactly did his ministry look like? He spent most of his time telling people about the Gospel and loving them for who they were, regardless of status, income, and appearance. And people were drawn to him, because of who he is and what he said.

Why is this the one area we Americans usually neglect? We’d rather read books and feel good about ourselves. We’d rather go to church and say “hello” to our one-day-a-week friends (or hang out exclusively with a select few every week). Yet there are plenty of people in your area of life that have never been told the Gospel. There’s still homeless people who could use some food, and there’s broken lives that need true love. There’s even one-day-a-week friends who are going through something terrible and need advice, prayer, and comfort! I know that I need to be reminded of this a lot. And I can’t help but think — what is a loving community that doesn’t welcome new people in or help the people within? Learn, grow, go. If any one of those three are off, the church is not really being the church. If one falls, the other two will follow suit.

Because of our sin, as churchgoers we tend to really focus on only one of the three attributes above and sometimes idolize it. Maybe we become obsessed with the preaching/pastor. Maybe we love our community so much that we feel insecure when things change. Sometimes we can even idolize outreach to the point of legalism. That’s why Jesus is the core of the church.

We are his hands and feet as parts of his body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), but if he’s not the center then it seems like we are just a bunch of hands and feet scattered all over the place. “Thing” from the Adam’s Family comes to mind. When love Jesus with all of our soul and tell others about him, people will be drawn to him and not to us. That’s what church is all about.

Are you connected to your church? Do you have any great outreach stories or just anything cool from your community of believers? Please, share!